Manitoba NDP calls for audit, alleges possible conflict of interest in data network deal

The Official Opposition wants Manitoba’s auditor general to investigate the commercial branch of Manitoba Hydro, and specifically whether provincial officials interfered in the awarding of a data networking contract to Bell MTS. 

The Manitoba NDP allege there is “clear evidence” that the Progessive Conservative government intervened in the awarding of a Manitoba data network contract.

“The premier’s officials appear to be mired in a significant conflict of interest,” the NDP’s Manitoba Hydro critic, Adrien Sala, said in a Thursday news release, asking Auditor General Tyler Shtykalo to conduct an audit.

At issue is a contract awarded to provide networking services at various government offices across Manitoba. The original 10-year, $120-million contract was signed in 2010 — under an NDP government — with Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS).

When the contract expired this year, a 30-month term, worth $37.5 million, was awarded to Bell MTS (the company created after Bell acquired the Manitoba telecom) without going to tender, the NDP says.

The Opposition argues there was no provision for an extension to the contract and that it was awarded without testing the market. 

The NDP also says documents obtained under the freedom of information act show Paul Beauregard — the secretary of the Treasury Board and a former executive at Bell MTS — “participated in preventing” Manitoba Hydro International, the Crown corporation’s commercial branch, from trying to secure the lucrative contract. 

“We’re here today to request the auditor general move forward with a full investigation to help Manitobans understand what has happened here, and to understand whether Mr. Beauregard engaged in conflict of interest,” Sala said during a news conference Thursday. 

Minister of Crown Services Jeff Wharton said in an email the NDP’s allegation is baseless, and that the extension of the network agreement was urgently needed to address the connectivity requirements caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Manitoba Hydro International was given a directive earlier this month to stop pursuing new work and to make sure any new contract has an end date of Dec. 31, 2021, or earlier.

The company is “being assessed for its strategic fit” with Manitoba Hydro, according to internal emails obtained by CBC.

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